Some personal history about software:
- first software written by me in Fortran II-d on IBM 1620 (BCD computer made with germanium transistors and magnetic core memory), fall 1968,
- first use of GNU/Linux by me, fall 2000, and
- first realization that FLOSS was the right way to do IT, fall 2003.
My early career in IT was about number-crunching, using computers as programmable calculators on various data-sets related to science and technology. As a physicist, I began to write software to automate data-collection as well. I applied what I knew to personal activities like photography and ballistics and building my first house with “the little woman”.
My latest career was teaching and it was natural to use IT to collect and analyze data on the performance of students but also to use IT for teaching and later to teach students how to do IT for their lives. Before I used GNU/Linux I owned a variety of PCs, some home-built but I used DOS and Lose 3.1 on them. After a few years I was using Lose ’95 in a classroom and the damned machines were frequently crashing, just like Bill Gates’ experience (He laughed. I didn’t.). I switched to Caldera GNU/Linux and was suddenly and dramatically free of crashes.
I used GNU/Linux ever since in my classrooms wherever and whenever I could “get away” with it. That was the usual case. In 2003, however, things changed again. I was not only to teach computer-subjects to students but I had my first computer lab with 1:1 student:PC ratio. We started with Lose ’98 but I soon used my personal computer to run the whole lab by LTSP! The students and I were amazed to see 30 students running all their applications on one ordinary PC running GNU/Linux and not crashing. It was faster, too. Then, when I actually taught Computer Science, it dawned on me, that FLOSS was the right way to do IT.
Teaching/learning is identical to the FLOSS process of writing software/learning to write software. It’s the right way to do IT. Instead of having students watch, learn and write software as assignments. I gave them open-ended projects that could grow. I challenged them to explore different strategies, software designs and to share all their work with each other. Just like Metcalfe’s Law (the power of a network varies as the square of the number of nodes…) the power of a class of students using FLOSS this way is huge. Brilliant ideas emerge from classes of ordinary students. Students learn to analyze any problem into chunks of reasonable size. They learn what doesn’t work, what works better and to choose what works best in writing and using software. It’s a natural fit and brings the real world into the classroom making everything fit. The subject matter includes the students. It is not something artificial imposed on them.
We had some fun times over the years with FLOSS. Whether it was writing tic-tac-toe as a class or having contests to install LAMP quicker than the other guy, everything was easy and the students did most of the work. I lead, followed or got out of their way. Even students who were scheduled against their will to be in my class found interesting stuff to do. Nothing was sacred. We designed and built PCs, software, and networks of PCs, quicker, faster, and cheaper using FLOSS. It has been and continues to be a great adventure.
What set this off was another writer’s revelation of how he learned the exciting concept of changing things that it FLOSS. see Phil Shapiro – OpenSource.org – “The day my mind became open sourced”
It’s a good read and conveys the message clearly. FLOSS is the right way to do IT. It’s something the trolls who comment here have not learned. They haven’t really understood or valued the process. FLOSS is not something dark and evil inside a black box. FLOSS is a living thing interacting with its environment. Non-FREE software is another thing entirely. Some of the greatest frauds of my lifetime have been perpetrated by the likes of M$, seeking to put people and their PCs into sealed boxes so they can collect money for granting people the freedom they already have to run, examine, modify and distribute software.
I recommend Debian GNU/Linux. Not only is it Free Software but the organization is very open and the APT package manager allows managing any number of PCs and servers much easier.